Video Art



Unlike the photography segment, the other New Media are not yet proposed in specialised sales or followed by specialised art departments at the auction houses.
Considered as emerging artistic practices, they are presented around the world in festivals, i.e. curated events, but they are rarely written up and, above all, have not yet found their economic model.
Over the first half of 2011, auction revenue from Contemporary art represented €497m, of which €32m was directed at photography (6.8%) and €4m going towards New Media artworks (0.4%).These two segments of the art market are not the same age and hence do not operate at the same cadence.

Insider Market
Video installations and multimedia works are not like other artworks in the sense that they require special setting up and management. As technology evolves, obsolescence is an integral aspect of these works and even if it is always possible to transfer video from one format to another (under the control of the artist), questions relating to presentation, conservation, the original versus reproductions etc., have meant that only a very small number of initiates have risked collecting video with any assiduity.
Having rapidly summarised the reasons for market resistance to video, light and new-tech artworks in general, allow me cite a number of exceptions and possible alternatives to the traditional market.First of all the exceptions: take for example the auction performances of artists like Bill VIOLA, Nam June PAIK, Felix GONZALEZ-TORRES and Mike KELLEY. The figures show that prices are indeed very high for artists with well-established names. Although we will not analyse the markets of each of these artists, I propose that we take a closer look at Nam June Paik and Bill Viola.

Nam June Paik is THE major precursor in the field (in 1959 he was distorting images with magnets) and his historical legitimacy has recently been confirmed by a number of auction records.May 2007 was a record month for video art with Paik signing his record just four days before that of Wolf VOSTELL: Christie’s Hong Kong sold an anthropomorphic televisual installation entitled Wright Brothers for 4.2 million Hong Kong dollars ($540,000 or €364,000). Paik – who holds the world auction record for video art – was nearly dethroned on 11 May 2011 by an installation signed William KENTRIDGE: the work entitled Preparing the flute fetched $500,000 (€348,400) at Sotheby’s NY.

Nice breakthrough of Asian artists
We also note that in video art, more so than in art photography, the biggest breakthroughs in the auction market are signed by Asian artists. If we look at the top fifteen artists working with video and light (and thus requiring a power supply) in terms of auction performance this year (July 2010 – June 2011), a third of them are Asian, thanks to the Japanese Tatsuo MIYAJIMA (with a new record set with T.L. Sakura, €232,000); the Chinese artists LI Hui (Ark No.2, €162,460 at Christie’s Hong Kong, 25 May 2008), QIU Zhijie (with a new record this year for Writing the orchid pavilion preface one thousand times sold for €135,000 at Christie’s Hong Kong, May 29), CHEN Zhen with €125,000 fetched for Lumière innocente (a light installation sold at Sotheby’s NY, 11 May 2011) and the Korean artist Lee Nam LEE (€36 000 set for Crossover Georges Pierre Seurat, Christie’s Hong Kong, May 29)

The collection of video art and interactive works is intrinsically linked to technological evolution and to the assimilation of these evolutions into our daily lives and to the changes that these technologies induce in our mentalities. Indeed, this market essentially depends on a major shift in our habits and attitudes, which implies a more spiritual and less material relationship with artworks. At the dawn of the Internet and social networking era, video art and interactive works should have a very bright future… and the dematerialisation of artworks may well contribute to revolutionising the economics of tomorrow’s art market.